On the need to go to the source

A new monk shows up at a monastery where the monks spend their time making copies of ancient books.

The new monk declares to the abbot, "I want to make copies of the originals of our sources, wherever they happen to be. I hope to avoid duplicating errors that might have been made in others' copies."

The abbot agrees though he realizes that travel might become rather expensive. Instead of starting a long journey, the abbot aks, "Could you start with the few original sources we have in the attics of the archive?"

The new monk agrees, and goes into the attics. Several hours later the new monk reports to the abbot. He is weeping, but finally he chokes out, "the word is 'celebrate,' not 'celibate'!"


Use the easiest sources for your early research, but always go to the primary source for the most accurate information.


The Reinert family photos

Through several years of researching the Reinert family, I've added several scanned photos to my library. It's time to share them for the holidays. And also to request family information on dating the photos and identifying the subjects.

If you have the original photo and the subjects are identified or the photographer's studio is named, please leave a comment or email me privately. I've given each photo a unique name to help in writing about them. I plan to add to this post frequently, to incorporate comments and add more photos. So check back often.

First posting 2013.12.03. Updated 2013.12.05, 2014.06.01 (Sr. Anne M. Reinert's information).

"Three young women"

Estimated 1899-1905, location unknown (perhaps Germany). This photo was provided by Patricia Thummel, who identified the subjects as Barbara Mertake, Kätherlina Reinert, and Mary Catherine Reinert. Two colleagues and I estimated their ages as 22, 12, and 17 for Barbara; 24, 32, and 22 for Kätherlina; and 18, 13, and 19 for Mary Catherine.

My data does not include the Mertake family, nor a Reinert woman with the nickname Kätherline.

A known Mary Catherine Reinert was born 21 Jan 1886, the daughter of Peter Reinert and Catherine Schwinden-Reinert. She married Thomas Thummel on 30 August 1905 in St. Boniface church of Tipton, relocated from the Tipton area to Seguin KS in 1906, and died 1 January 1955. No visits to Germany are known.
  • Questions:

    • Who is Barbara Mertake?
    • Who is Kätherline (Ketterlina) Reinert?
    • Where was this photo taken?
    • Does the original photo provide the photographer or studio name?

"Two young women, flower sprigs"

Estimated 1880-1902, location unknown (Trier, Germany noted). This photo was provided by Patricia Thummel, who identified the subjects as Mary Reinert with a relative. Two colleagues and I estimated their ages as 20, 42, and 32 for Mary and 16, 15, 15 for the relative.

Mary Reinert-Gillen was born 27 January 1860, emigrated from Germany 9 February 1867, settled in Caledonia MN 1867-1872, resettled to Tipton KS area Autumn 1872, married 24 April 1887, and died 26 July 1939.

No visits to Germany are known.
  • Questions:

    • Do the flower sprigs in their left hands signify some event?
    • Who is the relative?
    • Does the relative's pose, holding to Mary's arm, indicate a weakness or need for support?
    • Does the original photo provide more text at the bottom than “Photogr TRIER”?

"Two young women, empty chair"

Estimated 1875-1883, location uncertain (Germany asserted). The photo was provided by Patricia Thummel, who identified the subjects as Mary Reinert and Gertrude Reinert. Two colleagues and I estimated their ages as 16,15, and 17 for Mary; 15, 16, and 19 for Gertrude.

Mary Reinert-Gillen was born 27 January 1860, emigrated from Germany 9 February 1867, settled in Caledonia MN 1867-1872, resettled to Tipton KS area Autumn 1872, married 24 April 1887, and died 26 July 1939.

Gertrude Reinert-Schandler was born 9 December 1864, emigrated from Germany 9 February 1867, settled in Caledonia MN 1867-1872, resettled to Tipton KS area Autumn 1872, married 26 January 1887, and died 24 September 1913.
  • Questions:

    • Does the empty chair signify some fact?
    • Do the braids indicate some aspect, perhaps unmarried and not engaged?
    • Does the original photo provide the photographer or studio name?
    • Do clothing styles indicate some facts?

"Family outside typical German home"

Estimated 1875-1895, location very likely Germany (Igel, Trier asserted). The photo was provided by Patricia Thummel, who identified the subjects as the Reinert home at Igel zu Trier. The building is typical to homes in small towns of western-central Germany, with an attached barn. The subjects are likely a single family, including five adults (or nearly-grown children) and five children. 

The adults are, left-to-right, female about age 32, male about age 30, female about age 26, female about age 45, and male about age 42.
The children are female about age 6, female about age 15 months, female about age 3, male about age 14, and male about age 6.

It seems unlikely the photo is only of the John Reinert family. When they emigrated in 1867, their ages were 45 (John), 42 (Katherine), 19 (Susanna), 16 (Nicolaus), almost 14 (Peter), 7 (Maria), and 26 months (Gertrude).

John's parents had died by 1867, and it's unclear who still lived in Wasserbillig, Luxembourg (John's home town). Katherine's parents had also died by 1867, and three of her siblings had already emigrated to America. Her brother Peter was then living in Igel, married and with five children by 1867. I believe her brother Matthias was also living then in Igel, and unmarried.

"Two girls, first communion"

Estimated 1906-1907. Photo provided by Patricia Thummel, who identified the subject in the right as Margaret Reinert (married name Neff) at Cawker City, Kansas. The girl on the left is unknown.

Left subject unknown, estimated age 11 years.

Right subject Margaret Reinert-Neff, estimated age 8 years. Margaret was the tenth child of Peter Reinert and Catherine Schwinden-Reinert (the eighth to survive past infancy). She was born 26 August 1898, married Florentz Neff on 25 August 1925, and died on 4 December 1967.
  • Questions:

    • Are both girls celebrating the first communion? If yes, why do they have different signifiers of the event (on the left, a white veil with floral wreath, prayer book, and rosary; on the right, a lit candle with handkerchief, no veil)?
    • Is the older girl a sister, perhaps Gertrude (born 1896) or Anna Catherine (born 1894)?
    • Does the original photo provide the photographer or studio name?

"Six brothers"

Estimated date 1911-1915, a formal studio photo of the sons of Peter Reinert and Catherine Schwinden-Reinert. I have two scans of the same photo, the top from Patricia Thummel, the bottom from Sr. Anne Martin Reinert. The subjects are identified by Sr. Anne:

Back row, left to right
  • Henry (Henry Nicholas Reinert, 1892-1970). Henry was the 7th child (5th to survive infancy). He married Anna Arendt on 8 September 1920 in UNKNOWN LOCATION, and had 7 children. Age estimates of 24, 17, and 22.
  • Ted (Theodore Mathias Reinert, 1901-1987). Ted was the 12th child (9th to survive infancy). He married Anna Geerdes on 24 April 1929 in Seguin KS, and had 9 children. Age estimates of 14, 15, and 16.
  • Will (William Joseph Reinert, 1883-1982). Will was the 3rd child (first to survive infancy). He married Barbara Deges on 16 April 1912 in UNKNOWN LOCATION, and had 8 children. Age estimates of 21, 22, and 54.

Front row, left to right
  • Gervase (Gervase Thomas Reinert, 1906-1981). Gervase was the 14th and youngest child (11th to survive infancy). He married Ruth Smith on 1 October 1938 in Omaha NE, and had one child. His adult nickname was "Doc." Age estimates of 11, 11, and 12.
  • Carl (Carl Mathias Reinert, 1889-1965). Carl was the 6th child (4th to survive infancy). He married Bertha Holdforth on 6 May 1914 in UNKNOWN LOCATION, and had 8 children. Age estimates of 28, 19, and 33.
  • Alex (Alex Gregory Reinert, 1904-1939). Alex was the 13th child (10th to survive infancy), and he would die at age 35, unmarried. Age estimates of 8, 7, and 9.
  • Questions:

    • Were all the brothers together to celebrate some specific event?
    • Are any other nicknames used?
    • Can any locations for marriages be corrected?

"Grandmother, daughter, son, and grandson"

Estimated date: perhaps 1939. The photo comes from Patricia Thummel, who identifies the subjects.

  • Gertrude Hubertine Reinert (1896-1991) at screen door.
  • Grandma Catherine Schwinden-Reinert (1860-1940). Her husband Peter had died in 1934.
  • Gerald Reinert (1932-1982). He married Joan Sullivan on 8 June 1955 in UNKNOWN LOCATION, and had 5 children.
  • Carl Reinert (1889-1965). He married Bertha Holdforth on 6 May 1914 in UNKNOWN LOCATION, and had 8 children. 
Sr. Anne M. Reinert commented, "I think Carl and Gerald came for Uncle Shorty's (Alex Gregory Reinert, 1904-1939) funeral. The house is the one grandpa Peter and sons built when they moved to Seguin. (The lumber to build the house was shipped by rail from the St. Louis fair.) I have forgotten the spelling of Shorty's name."
  • Questions:

    • Where are Carl's other seven children?
    • Who likely took the photo?

"Five members of the older generation"

Estimated date: TBD. Patricia Thummel provided the photo, and she identified the subjects.

  • Peter Reinert
  • Catherine Schwinden-Reinert
  • Unknown, perhaps Maria Simeon-Reinert
  • Unknown, perhaps Nicholas Reinert or Steven Schandler
  • Perhaps Mary Reinert-Schandler

"Wedding party, bride and groom seated"


"Farm family of parents and seven children"


"Group at the veranda"


"Gervase and Alex"

April 1909, the two youngest boys of Peter Reinert's family.

Gervase Thomas (left) was born and Alex


"Gervase and Ruth Reinert"


"Wedding of Ted and Anna Reinert"

At the wedding of Ted Reinert and Anna Geerdes (front), the witnesses were John Geerdes and Gertrude Reinert (back). The wedding occurred on 24 April 1929 at St. Martin Catholic church, Seguin, Sheridan county, Kansas.

"Communion of Ted and Margaret Reinert"


"Wedding of Unknown Bride with Glasses"

Formal wedding portrait of Tony Feldt (Anton George, 1890-1973) and Anna Reinert (Anna Catherne, 1894-1966). The witnesses were Tony's brother Henry Feldt (dates estimated 1885-1975) and Anna's sister Gertrude (Gertrude Hubertine Reinert, 1896-1991). The wedding occurred 27 May 1919 in Seguin, Sheridan county, Kansas.

"Margaret Reinert-Neff with Bouquet"


"Couple with Nine Children"


"Couple with Seven Children"

Formal portrait of the Mathias and Elizabeth Schuetz family, 31 July 1940. Back row, from left: Isabelle (Isabelle Catherine Schuetz-Peltier, 1917-2000?), Henrietta (Henrietta Margaret Schuetz-LaBarge, 1918-2000?), Bernard (Bernard Nicholas Schuetz, 1925-2011?), Raymond (Raymond William, 1919-2000?), Pauline (Pauline Helen Schuetz-Perkins, b. 1921), Asella (Asella Marie Schuetz-Lindstrom, b. 1922).
Foreground: Mathias Schuetz (1883-1968), Josephine (Josephine Ann Schuetz-Goscha, b. 1927), and Elizabeth (Elizabeth Susanna Reinert-Schuetz, 1887-1981). One child died in infancy (Robert Mathias Schuetz, 1931-1931).

"Couple with Six Children"

Formal portrait of the Henry Reinert family, 1945.
Rear, left to right: Vincent (Vincent Leo, 1929-1997), Sr. Dorothy Ann (Esther, 1921-1995), Francis (Frank Robert, 1926-1996), and Eldean (Eldean Marie Reinert-Cahoj, b. 1932).
Front: Toots (Virginia Elizabeth Reinert-McMahon, b. 1934), Aunt Anna (Anna Catherine Arendt, 1896-1945), Uncle Henry (Henry Nicholas, 1892-1970), and Bob (Henry Robert, b. 1936).
Pete (Peter Aloysius, 1923-1972) was in the service, but the family could not wait to take a family picture till he came home, because Aunt Annie was dying of polycystic kidney disease. The plan was to insert Pete when he returned home.

"Peter Reinert Family"


"Peter and Catherine Reinert with Family on Fiftieth Anniversary"


"Full Peter Reinert Family at their 50th Anniversary"

"Photo 100"
 "Photo 101"
 "Photo 102"
 "Photo 103"
  "Photo 104"
  "Photo 105"
  "Photo 106"
  "Photo 107"
  "Photo 108"
  "Photo 109"
  "Photo 110"

"Photo 111"

Margaret Reinert-Engelbert (1922-1997), married to William H. Engelbert. She was the primary compiler of The Reinert and Simeon Family.

 "Photo 112"

Sr. Anne Martin Reinert (Irene Katherine Reinert, b. 1931) informal portrait about 1997.


The John M. Kohn family photos

Yesterday, I received two family photos from my 3rd cousin-once-removed Barbara Schuh. Her father Robert Schuh received them from his godmother Marie Irsch.

The family is the John M. Kohn family, my great grandfather. He was born 1839 in Wasserliesch, Germany; his wife is Susanna Reinert, who was born 1848 in Igel, Germany. These two towns are across from each other on the Mosel River, a few miles upstream from Trier. The couple likely knew each other in Germany before they emigrated—he in 1865 and she in 1867, and they lived 30 miles from each other in Minnesota and Wisconsin from 1867-1872. John M. followed Susanna when she moved with her mother and siblings to Kansas. They married at Waconda, Kansas in 1874.

This photo was taken about September 1881 to June 1882. Susanna likely was pregnant with her 5th child (the 4th child to live through infancy). The children in the front row are Mike J. (born 1879), Peter (born 1877), and Katie (born 1881) . The family had moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in late 1880--the couple and two sons were in the June 1880 census of Kansas, their daughter Katie was born January 1881 in La Crosse.

This photo was taken about 1887-1889. The children (left to right: Katie (born 1881), Mike J. (born 1879). Ben (seated, born 1884), Peter (born 1877), and Annie (born 1882)) have recently experienced the death of their youngest brother Joseph (born March 1886, died November 1886) and mother (died August 1887). John M. and family moved to a farm near Cawker City, Kansas in 1887 or 1888.


Only a guess, but this photo comes from about 1890, when Katie was about nine years old. Annie was eight in that year, so the other girl seems a bit small to be Annie.

This photo must come from about 1904. The family moved to a livestock farm in Bloom township, Osborne county, Kansas after they resettled from La Crosse. The youngest boy, Ben (left) was born 1884 and appears to be ten to twelve years old here. The two sisters Katie and Annie would be about twelve to sixteen. The older boy, either Peter or Mike J., would be in his late teens. The photographer is likely the other older boy. The father John M. (1839-1919) lived on the farm until his death at age 80.

Other researchers also document some of the family.
  • Peter Kohn (1875-1941) married Elizabeth Ottley (1880-1947) and had a family of 7 children (a sixth child did not survive infancy).
  • Mike J. Kohn (1879-1965) married Louise Ohnsat (1875-1959) and had a family of 8 children (two others did not survive infancy).
  • Katie Kohn (1881-1955) married Phillip Gasper (1877-1964) and had a family of 8 children (a 9th child did not survive infancy).
  • Annie Kohn (1882-1956) married Frank Streit (1881-1951) and had a family of 10 (an 11th did not survive to childhood).
  • Ben Kohn (1884-1955) married Barbara Streit (1887-1974) and had a family of 9.
  • The two deceased infants were John Nicholas (1875-1875) and Joseph (1886-1886).


Finding the correct town and parish for your German ancestors

For the genealogist, it's easy to get bogged down in adding information from family births, marriages, and deaths among the many cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Usually a family member who knows of your interest sends a note that Uncle Junior has died. It's up to you to find the obituary and document the date and location for the death and burial, corroborate what you already know with the list of survivors and the biographic details.

But keeping track of your contemporaries isn't really enough. You know that a dedicated family researcher goes back toward the beginnings of the family. And often seeks information about parents and siblings of those who have married into the family.

At some point, the family researcher comes to the first immigrant from another country. The research becomes multi-national and usually multi-lingual. That jump across the ocean gets harder and harder for each generation removed from the immigrant. More to the point, it's more difficult to find the town that a family member emigrated from.

Accumulated research can turn up information about the other country in several locations.
  • Civil records (birth, marriage, divorce, or death) that name the parents or spouse and identify the person's home
  • Civil records for an immigrant that identify the country of birth or former citizenship
  • United States federal census enumerations, which ask the place of birth, year of birth or age, and place of birth for each parent
  • Church records (baptism, confirmation, wedding, or funeral) that may name the parents, spouse, or previous church that documents the person's baptism or marriage
  • Anecdotes from contemporaries or children of the immigrant
  • Biographical sketches from contemporary newspapers
  • Tombstone entries
  • Memorial cards from funeral services
  • Obituary notices and biographical sketches

Only on occasion do these sources certainly identify the town of emigration. And even if they do, the information must be met with some suspicion. After all, most of the sources contain information provided second-hand, from relatives of the immigrant. And memory fades, even for the immigrant, who may have left at an early age.

My experience in finding the town of emigration includes great ease and great difficulty.
  • My great grandparents John M. Kohn and Susanna Reinert were part of a family that already has many family researchers. Even before I began to research, their towns of origin in western Germany, close to the Luxembourg border, were known to be Wasserliesch and Igel.
  • My great grandparents Robert Ohnsat and Leopoldina Salinger were ciphers. An elderly cousin had some anecdotes that placed his home at Nysa or on the Nysa River in Silesia and her home at Frankfurt. This was partially true for my great grandfather, but not even close for my great grandmother.
  • My great grandparents Anton Deneke and Maria Anna Stephan had passed on information about their homes of birth, but not much more. His birthplace was known as Hannover, and hers as Königheim in Baden. Both turned out to be correct, though Hannover was the seat of the district government, and his actual birthplace was Brakel in Kreis Höxter.
  • My great grandparents Richard Butler and Mary Ellen Cummings were part of a family that includes several family researchers. As I began my work, I soon found the researchers who had information back to the generation that lived in Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland.
Especially for the Ohnsat, Salinger, Deneke, and Stephan families, I found the International Genealogical Index (IGI) to be of some help. This aid allows you to enter a person's name and other data, which can search information for matches. You can then look through the matches for a likely location to research. I have provided more information in another post, the International Genealogical Index (IGI).

If you have a reliable town name, you can use the FamilySearch Catalog to enter the country name and town name. The catalog will list the corrected country, district, and county in addition to the town. If the town had a church that allowed its parish registers to be microfilmed, the catalog connects to a record that identifies the microfilms. With the microfilm numbers, you can order the microfilm at your local LDS genealogy library.

If you have a town name that is less reliable, you should use a couple of these online sources to find a corrected spelling or a correct district for the town.
  • Contemporary online mapping, such as Google Earth. This can provide a search for the town name, though it does not typically offer alternatives to misspelled names.
  • A listing of town names by country and area, such as the Global Gazetteer. Select a country, and then select a region or begin searching right away for the town name.
  • Go to a version of Wikipedia for a specific language (for example, French, German, Irish, Italian, or one of nearly 50 others) and enter the town name. Wikipedia provides a large number of alternatives if the spelling is not exact.
  • Try to find a web page for the town by using the format www.TOWN.COUNTRYCODE (for example, www.Wasserliesch.de).
  • Try to find the town name from a web page for the region or state by using the format www.REGION.COUNTRYCODE (for example, www.trier-land.de, www.hessen.de, or www.deutschland.de).
Happy hunting!
© Thomas G. Kohn, 2013.

Notes for further additions to this post

The records that cite Mesenich, Igel and Igel, Trier are listing the community (or parish), followed by the next higher level of church or civil government. In the opening pages of a microfilm of parish records, you would see listings of towns for Parish, Deaconate, Community, Civil Region (Pfarrei, Dekonat, Gemeinde, Regierungsbezirk). Also the microfilm's first pages would identify the archive (for example, the Trier Bistumsarchiv).

Mesenich and Metzdorf, being smaller towns that didn't (ever? occasionally?) have a parish church of their own, would be documented in the parish records of the next larger, nearer community where the family went for church services. This could be Langsur, Griwenich, Wasserbillig, or even Igel. If you go to Google Earth, you can see that all of these towns are within easy walking distance; none more than perhaps 5 miles distant, even by a winding road along the river.

So if you start searching microfilms of parish registers, you have a bit of duplicated effort, until you find the first entry of relevance for your Konzemn ancestors. From that point on, you might assume that at least for a couple generations, the family wouldn't change its choice of parish.

I do have a few of the many church records of which parishes were aligned with a deaconry. Their information is pretty well represented by the catalog structure of the LDS microfilm library.


Houston County, Minnesota—Catholic parishes in Caledonia

First publication 2013.11.14. © Thomas G. Kohn, 2013.

In 1867 to 1871, the Reinert family likely were members of St. John the Baptist church in Caledonia. Other Catholic churches in the county were more distant, in Hokah, Brownsville, and La Crescent. The St. John church was built in 1857 on the site now occupied by Merchant's Bank at Washington and Kingston streets. The church was rebuilt in stone in 1862. The church served the Irish, German, and Luxemburg Catholics who settled in the Caledonia area until 1870 when a second, German-speaking parish formed. Both parishes used the same cemetery, which is named Calvary Cemetery and located on Route 249, about 3/4 mi southeast of the Catholic church.

Figure 5. St. Peter Catholic church,
Caledonia, about 1900.
The German parish constructed St. Peter’s Church from Brownsville limestone, hauled by wagon 14 miles uphill over rough roads. Primary construction was completed in 1872, a bell tower was completed in 1873, and three bells were installed. In 1925, the bell tower was replaced with the current structure. In the early 20th Century, St. Peter’s church was renowned in the region for its large and densely planted gardens.[5]

After a fire destroyed part of the St. John church in the 1950s, the two congregations merged instead of rebuilding the Irish church. The St. Peter’s church was renamed St. Mary’s in 1976. The history of these parishes are documented in the painted glass windows: John the Baptist is on the north side, St. Peter on the south side, and St. Mary is between them in the apse.

Figure 6. St. Mary Catholic church, Caledonia.
In 2002 St. Mary’s received a major refurbishment. Two transepts were added and the altar was moved forward. A foyer was added to the front of the church, as well as a corridor to Holy Family Hall. In 2004 the parish of St. Patrick’s in Brownsville joined St. Mary’s in a diocesan clustering plan. The churches have separate pastoral offices, but they share a pastor, who currently is Matthew Fasnacht.[6] The St. Mary’s Bazaar usually falls on the last Sunday of October.

The parish records from 1866 (marriages), 1868 (baptisms), and 1874 (burials) through the present are handwritten. They are neither microfilmed nor duplicated in the diocesan archives in Winona, Minnesota. I have seen the parish records and photocopied several pages. Two loose, unnumbered sheets are inserted before the bound pages.

Figure 7. First unnumbered page,
St. Mary parish register.
These sheets document baptisms from mid-1868 on one sheet (Figure 7) and from late 1868 through February 1869 on the other. The handwriting differs from handwriting on the numbered, bound pages, and the entries are not signed. I infer that the two loose sheets indicate another parish register existed, perhaps to document the acts performed in St. John parish. More research is needed to find the missing parish register, which might document the burial of John Reinert. Neill’s statement that the sacraments were performed as early as “1855, when itinerant missionaries from Wisconsin, and perhaps Winona, visited the settlement, and held mass at private houses” and identifies the priest Michael Pendergast.[7]

Figure 8. Marriages, pages 2 and 3,
St. Mary parish register.
The bound and numbered pages begin with marriages of 1866, 1867, 1868, and 1869 on pages 2 and 3 (Figure 8).

Figure 9, Baptisms, page 35,
St. Mary parish register.
Page 35 is the next I have photocopied. The handwriting is the same as on pages 2 and 3, and its baptismal entries of 1868 have the pastor’s signature, Mathias Hurenberg. Page 51 is the fourth page I have, and its baptismal entries of 1870 are signed by pastor K. Körbel. The remaining photocopied pages 56-59, 61, 62, 68, 70, 71, 75, 76, 78, and 70 also contain baptisms 1870 to 1873 entered by Körbel.

Previous sections: Background for family history
Next sections: Local Development, History, Reinert History in the Area, Travel to Kansas in 1872, Tipton KS, Seguin KS, La Crosse WI



Neill, Rev. Edward D., History of Houston County including Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota and Outline History of the State of Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society, 1882. pp. 360-361: “The present pastor [of St. John the Baptist] is Rev. Father Shanahan, who has a residence near the county buildings on Marshall Street. The building ... was erected during the earlier years of the [Civil War]. the Rev. Charles Koeberl being the resident priest at the time. The earliest meetings in town must have been held in 1855, when itinerant missionaries from Wisconsin, and perhaps Winona, visited the settlement, and held mass at private houses; the first of these remembered was Michael Pendergast. ... Rev. Father F. Essing was the first regular priest here, and he was followed by Rev. Mathew Sturenberg, who was familiarly called Father Mathew; Rev. Father Muchelberger, and then Rev. Charles Koeberl. The language using in this church, aside from the Latin ritual, is the English, as most of the congregation have this as their mother tongue.
“St. Peter’s Church.—This congregation and church is made up of those Catholics in Caledonia and vicinity, who use and understand the German language. A separation was made in the year 1873, when the present church was completed. ... In connection with the church is a parochial school under the charge of the Sisters of Notre Dame. There are about 100 pupils. The Rev. Charles Koeberl was in charge when the church was built. Rev. John Zuzek has been the pastor since June, 1878, and the congregation now numbers 165 families.”


The church is located at 513 S. Pine St. The parish office is immediately north of the church. Enter from the parking lot at the corner of South and Pine Streets. Addresses: P.O. Box 406, 453 S. Pine St., Caledonia MN 55921-0406. Bookkeeper and secretary: stmaryschurch@acegroup.cc. Phone 507-725-3804. Hours: Monday through Thursday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m Current information at their website.


Neill, p. 361.

Houston County, Minnesota—local development

First publication 2013.11.15. © Thomas G. Kohn, 2013.

As part of southeastern Minnesota, the county is in the “Driftless Zone,” which is marked by the absence of glacial drift[8] and presence of bedrock cut by streams into steep hills. The plateau that surrounds Caledonia includes flat, fertile farm land and hilly, verdant pasture land.

Figure 10. Mississippi transportation, undated.
Navigation up and down the Mississippi encouraged growth of the county (Figure 10). Records of river transport document shipping from as early as 1844. The shipping season typically opened in April, after the river is free from ice. In 1855, a ferry from La Crescent to La Crosse was licensed. Named the “Wild Kate,” it operated without a regular timetable from its normal berth at La Crosse (Figure 11). Two horses powered a treadmill for the crossing. An unreliable steam ferry named “Honey Eye” soon replaced Wild Kate. However, its steam engines had little capacity, and often the ferry “had to tie up to an island, let the steam go down, take off the safety valve, and with buckets fill the boiler, then get up steam again and finish the trip.”[9] After two years of such service, the ferry was abandoned and another company provided better service through 1878.

Figure 11. Mississippi ferry at Redwing, about 1900.
Railroad companies were provided bonds for building by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1857, in the face of popular and legislative opposition. However, referenda and laws were passed that obstructed state bonds for railway development through 1860. Although the battle over state funding of railway building raged until 1881, the private companies began to install their lines. “A part of the great St. Louis and Minneapolis line runs through the county north and south near the Mississippi River. Another road runs in the valley of the Root River east and west, connecting with the Mississippi road at the river. The third railroad in the county is the ‘Caledonia and Mississippi,’ which, from the junction on the river, follows up the Crooked Creek in a northerly direction to Caledonia, the shire town, where it deflects toward the south, and passes through Spring Grove, and thence on to Preston, its present terminus. This line was undertaken by local enterprise and is of the standard narrow gauge.”[10]

Figure 12. Harvesting flax.
It is possible that John Reinert brought tools of his trade with him to pioneer America, where there would be a ready market for both linen thread and cloth. This hypothesis may be hard to prove, since tax records have not been found to date. Writing in 1882, Neill reported that flax cultivation had begun with one acre in 1878, which produced four bushels of seed.[11] Even through the 20th Century, Minnesota was one of several states that devoted many acres to flax.[12] Flax had become competitive in northern states like Minnesota because these states need fast maturing, cool season crops. Flax can be planted in April, as soon as the soils begin to warm, and it can be harvested in August (Figure 12), well before early frosts.[13] However, since about 1970, American flax production has failed to compete with imported textiles, whether as raw materials or as finished goods. The plat maps of 1931[14] report that neighboring farms to the Reinert home had cattle, hogs, chickens, and geese. An average 120 acres of each farm supported the livestock with grain and pasture.

The county population grew quickly in the 1860s, decreased slightly from 1900 to the 1930s, and gradually grew to the 2010 population of 19,000.[15] The town of Caledonia has grown steadily, although slowly. La Crescent growth began only in the middle of the 20th Century, and its growth has been the driver of county growth since then. Of the other villages and townships, only Spring Grove village, Houston village, and La Crescent township have 1000 residents or more. The remaining 19 villages and townships have not grown much beyond populations of 500 each.

Figure 13. Root river in Houston county.
The Root River and its broad floodplain (Figure 13) divide the county into a north third and a south two-thirds. In the north are the villages of Money Creek (unincorporated), Pine Creek (unincorporated), Houston (population 979 in 2010), Hokah (population 580), and the largest town of the county, La Crescent (population 4,830). La Crescent overlooks the Mississippi floodplain and slow-moving river, almost directly west from La Crosse, Wisconsin. South along the Mississippi are the towns of Brownsville (population 466) and Reno (unincorporated).

The southwestern two-thirds of the county populate the rolling plateau above the Mississippi. Caledonia (population 2,868) sits in the center. The other towns on the plateau are Yucatan (unincorporated, township population 351), Sheldon (unincorporated, township population 289), Black Hammer (unincorporated, township population 326), Riceford (unincorporated), Newhouse (unincorporated), Spring Grove (population 1,330 and Spring Grove township population 422), Wilmington (unincorporated, township population 472), Eitzen (population 243 and Winnebago township population 257), and Freeburg (unincorporated, Crooked Creek township population 323).

Figure 14. Map of Caledonia, 2001.
The town of Caledonia is a typical American small town (Figure 14). The streets are broad and mostly planned in a matrix of parallels and right angles. The businesses form a tightly-knit downtown that has stood for one hundred years or more (Figure 15). The largest buildings in Caledonia are the county courthouse, which was built in the 1890s, and St. Mary Catholic church, which was originally built in the 1880s. Both are located in the southern central area of town, within a few blocks of each other. The brick or stone buildings that date from before 1885[16] have weathered well, although some façades have received incongruent modernizations. A line of newer businesses skirts the western edge of town along Highway 44-76.

Figure 15. Caledonia downtown, 1907.
The homes developed clearly in separate additions: a few frame homes from the end of the 19th Century still stand, a group of homes built in the 1920s occupies one section of town, more modest homes built after the Great Depression are in another pocket, and in several groupings are the homes built to house the smaller families that formed after soldiers returned from World War II. Here and there, you can find homes built in the 1960s through the 1990s that fill in vacant lots left during the other periods of development. Along State Route 44-76 are the most recent businesses that include gas stations, motels, fast food, and restaurant-bars. The nearest city for movies and other entertainment is seventeen miles away: La Crosse, Wisconsin.[17]

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See Coulee Region, accessed 2013.10.22.


Neill, p. 285.


Neill, p. 258 (writing in 1882 about the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul company).


Neill, p. 292.


378,000 acres in 1920 Minnesota, 1.6 million acres in 1943, and diminishing lately to only 10,000 acres, as cited in a Minnesota farms publication.


Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, in their online essay on flax.


Unattributed, Atlas and Farmers’ Directory of Houston County,. Webb Publishing Company (St. Paul MN), 1931. Personal copy available as scanned images.


Population figures cited in Wikipedia's article on Houston county and linked entries for each township and town.


Neill, p. 271.


Nine years after Susanna Reinert had left the Caledonia area for Tipton, Kansas with her mother, sisters, and brothers, she moved to La Crosse with her husband John M. Kohn and three children. They had moved there at the encouragement of her brother-in-law Mathias Kohn, who had owned and operated a well-respected and successful saloon and boarding house in La Crosse since 1864.